Measuring the value of time

Many people would have heard about the hissy fit thrown by professional conservative provocateur Ann Coulter when she had her seat on a plane flight switched. Since her entire mission is to gain publicity of any kind in order to get speaking engagements and sell books, this incident was a success for her, however much mockery she received.

What I wanted to focus on is one thing that she tweeted when the airline offered to refund her the $30 extra that she had paid to get that particular seat.

$30! It cost me $10,000 of my time to pre-select the seat I wanted, investigate type of plane & go back periodically to review seat options

If she charges for her time at the exorbitant rate of around $1,000 per hour, like many top lawyers do, that means she spent 10 hours just to pick her damn seat, which makes her one of the most inefficient people on the planet.

But I want to focus on this whole question of time=money that is used for such productivity estimates. Very often ones sees articles about how much some delay (such as sitting in traffic jams, power outages, flight delays, etc.) is costing the economy. Those estimates seem to be computed by calculating the per hour cost of the average wage earner and then multiplying it by the time ‘lost’ and claiming that this is the cost to the economy. The figures quoted often run into the billions of dollars.

But that is surely bogus. What the delays do is shift the work to another time, a nuisance to be sure, but of no added cost to the employer because people do not charge for the time lost by the delay. Unless someone else had to be hired to do the work or something, this is not ‘real’ money. But I am not an economist and maybe someone will explain why this is an actual loss.

The ‘research’ that Coulter did did not cost her $10,0000 because if so, she would have easily bought a first class ticket for much less.

But she probably got what she wanted that was much more valuable to her – notoriety.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    Just think how much time, and therefore money, she could have saved by buying her own private jet, or at least chartering one. No wading through TSA lines and waiting at the gate; leave whenever you want, etc.

  2. says

    I would have thought that, as a conservative woman, she should have stood barefoot and silent while the corporations worked their will. Isn’t it disrespectful of her to snap at her corporate masters like that? They paid good money for her.

  3. phhht says

    Delta says: “We are sorry that the customer did not receive the seat she reserved and paid for.”

    I am no supporter of Coulter -- I am a liberal who lives in Berkeley -- but the answer to these sorts of situations is for the airlines to stop defrauding their customers. In my view, Coulter is completely justified in her outrage.

  4. lanir says

    There are 168 hours in a week and the standard full time work week consumes 40 of them. Generally speaking, the worth of any given amount of time would be less than a quarter of what people usually project it as because they assume their hourly rate applies.

    In my experience with many different types of jobs there is a lot of time in any normal workday where one is not producing at peak efficiency. This is normal. Corporations seem to like paying people to say otherwise but that’s a lot like watching Olympic sprinters and then asking them why they aren’t always moving at the speed they just demonstrated; the answer is obvious. This makes it difficult to guage the true worth of a small amount of time.

    It feels to me like there’s a whole lot of delusional nonsense floating around about time and productivity. Probably because there’s a lot of money to be had telling managers how to wave a magic wand and make production increase. It all looks like snake oil to me.

  5. jazzlet says

    This is a problem in the UK as ‘time lost’ is used to calculate the benefit of road building (as well as airport expansion etc) and that ‘time lost’ is always assumed to be that of someone working when the roads are obviously also used by people not working. As a small crowded country there is a limit to where we can put new roads and a real cost in degredation of the environment both natural and human.

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